The city of Seville is the capital of Andalusia and is renowned for its history, culture and monuments. It is the 4th largest city in Spain, after Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.

Casco Antiguo is the central area of Seville where the main shops and the principal tourist attractions of the city are located, including: The Cathedral, the Giralda, the Alcázar, the General Archive of the Indies, the Torre del Oro, the City Hall, the Palace of San Telmo,   the Museum of Fine Arts, the Lebrija Palace, the Casa de Pilatos, and the Metropol Parasol.

Distrito Sur is notable for the presence of the Plaza de España, the Parque de María Luisa, the Archaeological Museum, the Prado de San Sebastian and the Museum of Arts and Traditions.

Triana was historically split from the main city, and it was known as an arrabal or small working-class town with its own houses, shops and businesses. Triana is placed in an almost-island between two branches of the Guadalquivir, narrowly linked to the mainland in the north. At the top of the district is the Monastery of La Cartuja, the Isla Mágica amusement park, and the original site of Expo 92.

Macarena is the name of the area of Seville located north of the city center, and includes the Basilica of the Esperanza Macarena, the Córdoba Gate and the Parliament of Andalusia (in the old Hospital de las Cinco Llagas). 

Distrito Norte includes the cemetery of San Fernando and the monastery of San Jerónimo de Buenavista.

Los Remedios, south of Triana, derives its name from a Carmelite convent (Convento de Los Remedios) of the same name found in that area. It is also on the Isla de La Cartuja, and includes the Puente de San Telmo and the Museo de Carruajes.


It is said that around the 8th C B.C., when iron took the place of bronze for the first time in Andalusia, the Turdetani (see the Tartessos culture) built a town (Spal or Ispal) on the banks of the Guadalquivir. This makes the city at least 2,700 years old. The area was very fertile, rich in natural resources, and accessible with the navigable Gualalquivir. In addition, the location offered abundant drinking water and was considered “temperate” in the long, dry, hot summers. On the other hand, the land was “swampy” and prone to flooding. The original town was (probably) on a long, narrow island (or dune about 450 m by 200 m) defined by two rivers (streams) flowing into the Gualalquivir, the Barqueta and the Tagarete, and could be approached by ships arriving throughout the year. Both these rivers/streams have disappeared, with the Tagarete now being deviated by the Tamarguillo into the Corta de la Cartuja (which as far as I can see is another artificial canal which, with the Guadalquivir, creates the Isla de la Cartuja).

It is interesting to note that at least through to about 1000 BC the Atlantic Ocean entered deeper inland with the Lacus Ligustinus (Ligustino Lake), and flooded the lower Guadalquivir Valley (now known as the Doñana National Park) almost up to where Seville is located today. Sediment formed a system of islands or dunes, and it was there that the “mythical” port of Ispal was built between 1000 BC and 800 BC. The region gradually silted up, probably in part due to removal of forest cover.

This initial “dune/island” ran from Los Jardines de Murillo to Plaza del Salvador - a small area south of the so-called Casco Antiguo covering the barrio Santa Cruz (which in medieval times was the Jewish quarter of the city). Around the dune an island was built long 550 m (from to corner of Calle Rosario with Calle Augusto Plasencia and over to Calle Gloria and Plaza de Doña Elvira), and wide 300 m (from corner of Calle de Placentines and Calle Francos, over to Calle Federico Rubio), with a circumference of about 1.7 km.

Experts suggest that the original name Ispal was first Latinised to Hispalis, then Išbīliya with the Muslim conquest, and then finally Castellanised to Sevilla. Experts have also suggested that the Ispal might have its origins in the Phoenician language, meaning an island that supports, or an island that bears a pillar (thus the often suggested relationship with the legendary foundation of the city by Hercules). Later suggestions point to a more realistic reference to the palafitte construction of the early city. However the language root is also linked to lagoon or marshy land.

The legend of Hercules, son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmena, is that he must do twelve labours. The 10th labour was to find Geryon and steal his red cattle (Geryon was thought by the Greeks to live in Tartessos). The story goes that once Hercules had killed the 3-headed, 3-bodied monster he decided to found a city (Seville) as a place of peace and fertile fields. One story has him nailing together some sticks in a swampy area on the banks of the Guadalquivir, and another story has him marking the place with six stone pillars (on which later Julius Caesar would found the city). Hercules is also associated with the general region in that the Pillars of Hercules separate Europe from Africa and connect the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean.

Even within such a traditional story as that of Hercules, there are layers of even more ancient traditions. The Roman Hercules, was the Greek Heracles, to which they added some anecdotal details concerning the geography of the central Mediterranean. But Heracles has also been identified with Melqart, a earlier god of the Phoenician city of Tyre.

Setting aside all the stories, archaeological evidence suggests that man was in region in the period between 4500 BC and 3500 BC. And there are indications that man was using wooden stilts or piles ca. 800 BC. Despite mythology and tradition there appears to be no information on why the earliest town later disappeared, and was then successively replaced by the Turdetana, Iberian and Punic cultures.

Phoenician merchants are said to have arrived in about 700 BC to take advantage of the local copper and silver mines in the area of Huelva, turning Ispal into a commercial colony (here we have the link to the Phoenician god Melkart). As with most ports, Ispal probably was built on a mix of cultures, with the Turdetani (ca. 500 BC - 206 BC), the Tartésicas (ca. 1200 BC - 500 BC), the Phoenicians (ca. 1500 BC - 539 BC), and the Carthaginians (814 BC - 146 BC). It has been suggested that with the collapse of the Phoenician Empire, the Carthaginians fought and defeated the Tartessos, destroying Ispal.

The Roman Period

The Punic (i.e. Carthaginian) colonisation of the region (and the implied destruction of Ispal - that is implied by the Greeks), lead to the creation of the myth of Ispavilia (about which I can find little factual evidence). A town certainly existed, because Roman troops took it in 206 BC, during the Second Punic War (218 BC - 201 BC). There is evidence showing a military presence of the Carthaginians in 237 BC, and it is presumed that they had maintained a presence in the region for some time previously.

The Romans went on to build a new city of Italica (after the battle of Ilipa), just 9 km from modern-day Seville. It was built as a settlement for veteran soldiers, and as a way to control the region around the Guadalquivir. Seville itself was renamed Hispalis, and developed into a large Roman city. Italica remained also an important Roman base, and was the birthplace of both Trajan (53-117) and Hadrian (76-138). Hispalis was the Latinisation of Ispal, and Julio César renamed it “Colonia Julia Romula Hispalis”. It has been suggested that Italica was also built for the simple reason that, at that time, Seville being on dune islands could not easily be enlarged, and there was the constant risk of flooding. Archaeologists have found ceramic remains showing that the local styles slowly “fusioned” with those imported from Rome. There is a suggestion that the expansion of Hispalis only started after 150 BC, but there are texts showing that by 100 BC Hispalis rivaled Cádiz in importance and was a major port. There are later texts that reference the strong walls of Hispalis. So over time Hispalis became one of the most important industrial centers of Bética, whilst Italica evolved as a Roman residential city. Bética was one of the Roman provinces of Hispania, and took its name from the fact that the Guadalquivir was originally called the Baetis (the capital of Bética was Corduba). We should not forget that the region was known for its mines (gold, silver, copper and lead), and for its agriculture (cereal, olive oil and wine, as well as the famous garum or fish sauce).

One report (from ca. 293) placed Hispalis as the 11th most important Roman city, and there are records of at least two attempted invasions by the Mauri (Moors) during that period.

Christianity arrived in Hispalis in the later 2nd C, and the Saints Justa and Rufina were martyred in 287 for refusing to worship the old Phoenician god Astarté

The Vandals and Visigoths

In 426 the city was captured by the Vandals of Gunderico (379-428), before later becoming a Visigoth city (the city was in the hands of the Suevos between 429 until ca. 450). There are claims that Seville was the Visigoth capital for the kings Amalaric (502-531), Theudis (ca. 470-548), and Theudigisel (ca. 500-549) - other Visigoth leaders preferred Toledo. In fact the last king was said to have been assassinated by a group of nobles Sevillanos during a candlelight dinner. Tradition has it that the cause was about his liking for prostitutes, but it probably had more to do with the running conflict between the Hispano-Roman and Visigoth communities.

By this time Hispalis had become known as Spali. Tradition has it that the Vandals caused so much destruction during their conquests that they always settled in provisional camps called Vandalen Haus, and that this became Vandalen Hause which became Vandalaus, and then Andalaus, and finally Andalusia.

In 580 Hermenegild, son of the Visigoth king Liuvigild, rebelled and converted from Arianism to Chalcedonian Christianity. He fled to Sevilla and when that fell in 584 he went to Córdoba. Other stories say that Hermenegildo actually converted to Christianity in 585 in Sevilla and proclaimed himself king. His farther Leovigildo is said to have changed the course of the Guadalquivir, and the drought was the downfall of the city.

It would appear that the Catholic bishop Leander of Seville was instrumental in converting Hermenegild to Catholicism, and when the farther Liuvigild died in 586 Leander also convinced the younger son Reccared I to renounce Arianism for Catholicism (see the Third Council of Toledo in 589 for more detail). Tradition has it that from then on Sevilla enjoyed a period of great prosperity.

San Leandro (ca. 534-601) and San Isidoro (ca. 560-636) were brothers, and both became bishops of Sevilla. Leandro was instrumental in converting the Visigoth kings to Catholicism, and Isidoro has been called “the last scholar of the ancient world” and was famous after his death for his Etymologiae or encyclopedia (448 chapters in 20 volumes). 

The Moors

Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik (668-717), the Umayyad Caliph, ordered Tariq bin Ziyad to invade Visigoth Hispania in 711-718. By 713 they had conquered Carmona, Seville, and Mérida. Seville was taken after a long siege, and until 716 it was the capital of Al-Andalus. Then Córdova became the capital, however many writers put the “head” in Sevilla, and the “heart” in Córdova (i.e. Seville was the administrative capital of Al-Andalus). The name of Seville was Arabised to Išbīliya. Concessions were extended to those who converted to Islam (Muladi) but not to those who remained Christian (Mozarabs). Mozarabs were legally required to pay the jizyah, a personal tax, and abide by a number of religious, social, and economic restrictions that came with their status. The main power base of the Umayyad was Syria, with Damascus as their capital. Rivalries between Arab tribes forced a branch of the Umayyad to flee to Al-Andalus, where they established the Caliphate of Córdoba (which lasted until 1031).

From about 1023 through to 1091 Seville was the capital of a Taifa, a kind of independent principality ruled by the Dynasty Abadí (an old Arab family from Seville). However the Taifa were weak militarily, and in 1063 they were forced to buy peace and pay tribute to Kingdom of Castile. In 1086 the Taifa princes invited the Almoravids to defend their territories from Alfonso VI. Being a Berber dynasty from Morocco, the Almoravids found it quite easy to return and annex the Taifa principalities in 1090.

In 1147 the Almohads (another, different Berber Muslim movement) conquered Marrakech and by 1151 Seville had been absorbed into the Almohad Empire. The capital of Al-Andalus moved back and forth between Seville and Córdoba, but this did not stop Seville flourishing economically and artistically. In 1171 improvements to the outer walls were made to defend the city against floodwaters. Bridges were built, the Alcázar was enlarged, and the construction of a major new mosque was started (in the plot that is now occupied by the cathedral). With time Seville became the capital of the Almohad Empire.

The Reconquista

The Siege of Seville (1247-1248) lasted 16 months, and was both highly complex and a great success for Ferdinand III of Castile. He had already captured Córdoba in 1236 and Jaén in 1247, so the taking of Seville was a major step to dominating the Iberian Peninsula (Granada would finally fall in 1492).

Attacking Sevilla was no easy problem, since the city had more than 7 km of walls. Ferdinand started by consolidating his logistics. Agreements had to be made with both James I of Aragon and the Nasrid rulers of Granada. In 1246 he assembled an impressive army, it is said that such an army had never been seen in the Middle Ages. A naval force was created, and it has also been said that cannons were used (this is the earliest recorded use of gunpowder in the West). Pope Innocent IV issued a Papal Bull so that economic and military support could be provided by the French, Germans and Italians. The Pope also issued another Bull to ensure that the churches of Castile and Leon could apply a tax to cover the expenses of the war.

In fact it was the naval force that dealt the critical blow. In May 1248 it destroyed the pontoon bridge between Sevilla and Triana over which supplies were supplied to the city. The city capitulated due to famine in November 1248. Ferdinand III did not have a fixed capital but the court often lodged in Sevilla, and in 1252 he died and was buried in the Alcázar.

Between the reigns of Alfonso X of Castile (1221-1284) and Pedro I (1334-1369) the court usually stayed in Sevilla. The Battle of Tarifa (1340) opened the Straits of Gibraltar to increased naval trade between southern and northern Europe. Sevilla became an increasingly important commercial hub, particularly for Italian and Flemish traders. The city was hit hard by the Black Death (1348) and an earthquake in 1356.

In 1391 there was an anti-Jewish revolt which started in Sevilla, and more than 4,000 Jews were killed in the city. The foundations of the Spanish Inquisition had been laid. The Jewish community in Sevilla, one of the largest in Spain, almost disappeared overnight.

But this did not stop Sevilla growing in importance. Through 1400-1500 the city doubled in size, and became the largest city in Castile and Aragon. The city’s soap-producing industry, shipyards and Crown mint contributed between 15-20% of the all Castilian tributes.

The Spanish Inquisition started in Sevilla with six people being burned alive on 6 February 1481. All the remaining Jews were expelled from the city in 1483, but more than 2,000 Jewish converts to Christianity remained. 

The New World

After 1492 Sevilla became the preferred port of departure for the New World. Sevilla became a cosmopolitan and universal city, with the presence of the Genoese, Florentines and Germans (in addition to the “traditional” trading partners of the Castilians, England and Flanders).

In 1502 the Islamic minority (the Mudéjar) were forced to convert to Christianity (becoming the Moriscos), giving Spain not just national unity, but also religious unity. As Sevilla grew so did its foreign population, who were not entirely welcomed by the native population. They were seen as exploiting rather then supporting wealth creation in the city. Negative public emotion was directed at the converted Moors and Jews, and against all heretics. Even after centuries the “conversos” were held in social isolation and distain. To be admitted to guilds, brotherhoods, schools, and political groups, you had to be “pure of blood”. Religious processions were reserved for “old Christians”.

By royal decree Sevilla had a monopoly as the port for ships leaving for, and returning from, the Spanish colonises in the Americas (in fact the port of Sevilla was called El Puerto de Indias). The Casa de Contratación was created in 1502, and together with the Universidad de Mercaderes in Burgos, regulated mercantile, scientific and judicial cooperation with the New World.

The “Casa de Contratación”, founded in 1503, collected all colonial taxes and duties, approved all voyages of exploration and trade, maintained secret information on trade routes and new discoveries, licensed captains, and administered commercial law. A 20% tax (the quinto) was levied by the Casa on all goods entering Spain, but other taxes could run as high as 40% in order to provide naval protection for the trading ships or as low as 10% during financial turmoil to encourage investment and economic growth in the colonies. The Casa de Contratación also produced and managed the Padrón Real, the official and secret Spanish map used as template for the maps present in all Spanish ships during the 16th century.

An example of a Padrón Real from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

We should not underestimate the strategic importance of Sevilla. It was an “interior” port for goods, silver and gold, which could be safely unloaded. Spain had a long, difficult and dangerous coastline, rugged terrain and poor roads, so Sevilla were a perfect port of call. And we should not forget that Andalusia was both agriculturally and industrially strong, and could supply the needs of the outgoing fleets. The regular passage of between 60-100 ships per year, brought precious metals, jewels, pearls, fabrics, crystal, dyestuffs, soap, spices, slaves and immigrants through the port of Sevilla. Great wealth and power was accumulated by the landed noble class, the Grandees, and below them there were the powerful military-religious orders (knights) of Alcantara, Calatrava, Santiago, and Montesa.

Until the discovery of the New World precious metal prices had been on a slow decline. With the discovery of new mines in the Americas, prices began to rise again. It is surprising to learn that it is almost impossible to know how much silver and gold actually came from the New World. One estimate put the Crown income from silver and gold from Peru for the year 1533 at 200,000 scudi (which the author estimated today might be worth about $4 million). Another estimate put the average annual imports (over the period 1531-1540) at 234,000 pesos (which, on the same basis, might be work about $6 million today). However the annual import for the period 1591-1600 was about 14 million pesos (or, on the same basis, about $330 million). These estimates are based on translating effective purchasing power, i.e. what you could buy then and how much that might cost you today.

In 1565 Sevilla had a population of about 85,000, and by 1588 its population was 130,000.   Some reports say the city’s population exceeded 150,000 by 1600, making it the biggest city in Spain, and the third largest in Europe. The city was known for its soap and pottery factories, and it exported silk products all over Europe. It was during this period that Sevilla acquired its most famous monuments, the Catedral (1506), the Giralda (1568), the Town Hall (1564), the Hospital de las Cinco llagas (1601), etc. In fact this was the Spanish Golden Age, with El Greco, Velázquez, Zubarán, Murillo, Cervantes, and not forgetting Vespucio who died in Sevilla in 1512. And to top it all Carlos I married Isabel de Portugal in Sevilla in 1526.

The Giralda at its various stages of construction: Almohad (left), Medieval Christian (right), and Renaissance (center)

The prosperity of Sevilla was at its zenith. Spain saw the emergence of a “modern” state, and the cultural transition from the Renaissance to Baroque. The Spanish crown consolidated power, and even gained special taxation rights from the Pope. It controlled the Spanish Inquisition, and had control over ecclesiastical appointments and reforms.

The Church in Seville had its origins in the old rites of the Mozarabic people, and with San Isidore and San Leandro. Even with the reorganisation of the Church under Ferdinand III, Seville retained a pride in its antique liturgy. Its wealth and status increased, and clerical salaries also. New churches and convents were built, religious orders and charities were founded, schools established, and churches acquired exquisite reliquaries and altar pieces. Seville’s Church served as the model and authority for the Church in the New World. So with so much wealth and power, why did Seville decline?

Economic Decline

Seville had always suffered. During the period 1450-1650 Seville suffered ten severe droughts, fifteen famines, fourteen epidemics, and thirteen periods of dangerous flooding. The final blow was the Great Plague of Seville (1647-1652) which killed 150,000 people in and around the city (60,000 in the city itself).

With the Counter-Reformation (in the period ca. 1550-1650) all the important religious orders, Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Jesuits, settled in the city. Seville became a city of priests and convents. By 1671 there were 45 monasteries and 28 convents in the city. The expulsion of the Jewish and Moorish populations deprived Seville (and Spain) of many of its bankers, scholars, doctors, and merchants. The Moorish population had been also skilled agriculturalists and industrial workers, so their expulsion affected negatively the native artisan class. The conversos who remained were distrusted and excluded from society. The foreigners who filled the vacuum left by these groups never fully integrated into Spanish life, and were never given effective political representation. With the plague regular religious rites were cancelled, business and shops closed down, the city’s administration ceased to function, and ships could no longer be loaded and unloaded. Then the Spanish Crown quadrupled the value of its weak currency, and food prices soared. Finally the Crown also forbid the purchase and use of some luxury goods, depriving Seville of another valuable source of income.

During this period the Jews were accused of the ritual sacrifice of Christian children, and in particular at Easter and Christmas. Any child lost during that period, would provoke riots and assaults in the Jewish quarter. 

Spain had prestige, power and wealth, and thus became the favourite target for the Turks, English, French, Berbers, Dutch, Portuguese and Catalans. Despite the wealth from the New World, new taxes were constantly levied to pay for wars. Some territories resisted paying, but Castile and Andalusia were weak, so taxes continued to rise. Exports from Seville to the New World kept prices high for both agricultural products and industrial goods. Despite the influx of precious metals, the Spanish never created an effective banking system, so there was high inflation and a constant series of monetary crises (inflation rose in Seville by 107% between 1503 and 1550). Government borrowing was high, and their manipulation of currency values played havoc with wages and the cost of living. In fact the Spanish Crown declared bankruptcy seven times between 1557 and 1653.  

In 1588 Spain’s “Invincible Armada” lost to the English, and with that Spain lost its national pride.

As Sevilla grew in importance, so did Spain’s vast bureaucracy. A new class emerged, the “letrados” (literates). A mix of bourgeoisie and lower nobility, it offered a degree of social mobility, as did the military and the Church. Working for the Church ensured that you had food and shelter, so it was both secure and desirable. The Church employed priests, scribes, sacristans, singers, musicians, choirboys, bellringers, porters, rent collectors, and lawyers, in addition to all the monks. The working classes had their guilds and religious fraternities. But we should not ignore the fact that the rural peasants living on estates were increasingly exploited by the land-owning Church and noble classes. Preferential treatment was given to livestock grazers over farmers, taxation was increased, inflation was high, and a sequence of poor seasons, drove the peasantry further in to poverty. We must also remember that Sevilla was a slave port. So the wealthy could buy slaves to work the land, and thus were able to continue to oppress the peasant classes.

We have mentioned soap production as being a major activity in Seville. But is there a link between soap and bureaucracy? The Royal Soap Factory of Seville (Reales Almonas de Sevilla) enjoyed the royal privilege (1423-1811) as the sole producer and purveyor of soap for the city. The privilege was first given to the Archbishop Ruy López-Dávalos, then later transferred to Admiral Alonso Enríquez). It was a monopoly with the price set by the local government. Disputes about the price were based upon ad-hoc tests to calculate both the cost of manufacturing and the administration of the factory. The tests were strict and performed by soap experts from outside Seville.

Price setting conformed to the idea of a regulated market, it was the Crown who determined the “just price” for goods. The price should be just above the cost. Pricing was a public service, and not for private profit. It must be remembered that soap was not related to bathing. It was a luxury, but even then using soap was not a well known social practice. Nevertheless soap production in 1525 was about 3 kg person, per year. The process itself was developed by the Arabs, and used olive oil and ash. As an aside there was at that time an active commerce in soap smuggling. For example, the price of olive oil was set at the Olive Oil Gate (Postigo del Aceite), and based on all oil acquisitions made during the preceding week. Disagreements occurred concerning the “other costs” associated with soap production, e.g. purchase of rope, preparation of cauldrons, cost of weighing the soap, taxes, rent, etc. And everything hung on the quality of the olives, and how much soap would be produced by how many olives.

So the price was fixed by royal privilege, quality conditions were set concerning colour and the quality of olives used. Fourteen shops were allowed to sell soap, and they had to be open 24 hours per day. The location of the shops were fixed (as were the locations for shops selling bread, olive oil and coal). Weighing devices had to be cleaned, sealed, and tested every 4 months. The price of soap had to be permanently displayed.

Complaints and changes to the tests were dealt with by the King! And it included everything. The need to guarantee soap production required work on Sunday. Thus a Sunday mass service was needed for workers. Thus one of the costs was paying for a priest. The King saw the petition, decided on new tests, and what costs should be included and excluded.

This type of cost accounting in regulated markets was dominate in Southern Europe, and with excessive bureaucracy, and all that was implied, both have been offered as the reason for the decline of Seville and of Spain through the 17th C and 18th C. 

The many charitable institutions created in Seville, valuable in their own right, also attracted the poor, former prisoners, old galley slaves, etc. to the city. And as with every port, there was a booming business in prostitution, and syphilis became epidemic. Soldiers were forcibly quartered with local residents, which also contributed to the city’s high crime rate.

Seville’s municipal government was responsible for tax collection, public services, controlling crime, running prisons, organising public festivities, administrating properties and rents, and setting prices for basic goods. However some municipal offices were subject to royal appointment. The Crown would sell these offices and titles, swelling the bureaucracy and diluting the power of the local government. And to top it all, the Crown could block conciliar power through the presence of their Corregidor.

The law was just as confusing. The Casa de Contratación had its own judicial authority over mercantile and shipping affairs. The Church had its ecclesiastical courts, and the Inquisition also had its own judiciary force.

By 1630 the Guadalquivir silted up, and large cargo ships were no longer able to dock there. Cádiz became Spain’s major shipping city, but by then most trade was in the hands of foreigners. In 1680 with the nomination of Cádiz as the official port for trade with the New World, Seville became just another regional capital, dependent upon local agriculture and commerce. The last nail in the coffin of Seville was the actual transfer of the Casa de Contratación to Cádiz in 1717. In the past Seville was America, and that link was finally broken with the transfer of the institutions to Cádiz. It is true that the Church remained wealthy and continued to build great ecclesiastical buildings, but Seville became “a city of nostalgia”.

Some experts have suggested that the transfer of silver shipments from Seville to Cádiz also favoured the contraband activities in which the authorities connived. Cádiz had offered many pecuniary services to the king, and there was a striking correlation between the concession of services and the obtaining of privileges.  

It is true that the whole of Europe appeared to fall into a general crisis between the Renaissance and Reformation on the one side, and the Enlightenment and Revolution on the other. The 17th C was a period of change for many, many European countries. Many had expanded during the 15th C and 16th C, and most stagnated in the 17th C. Those communities that were dependent upon agriculture suffered the most, with prices falling for bread grain, meat and dairy products (industrial products varied less). Seville was also dependent upon the easy profits associated with silver, initially there were rich pickings for the businessman, speculator and profiteer. Modern capitalism was born in this period. When the silver flow diminished (post-1610) and the monetary base contracted, prices fell, and easy profits evaporated. It is also certainly true that the heavy Spanish bureaucracy left a lot of space for more efficient competitors to emerge. The plague and the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) reduced the population of the Holy Roman Empire by more than 35%.

By 1621 Spain’s transatlantic trade with the New World was in full decline, and between 1620-1622 Spain needed more money to pay for the Palatinate campaign, and in 1622 for the constant naval conflicts with the Dutch Republic. The Spanish Crown defaulted 1627, destroying Genoa’s banks, and ruining the international payments system. In 1628 Spain devalued its copper coinage by 50%. And then learned that privateers of the Dutch West India Company had captured the entire Spanish silver fleet. Any one of these crisis would have caused Seville some considerable discomfort, taken together they clearly explain the reason for a prolonged decline.

All was not negative. In the early 1700’s there was much building in Seville. Old buildings were cleared away from the city centre, leaving buildings such as the Cathedral to take on their true monumental appearance. Streets were straightened, and new buildings were expected to fit into an enlightened urbanism.

The first reference to the consumption of tobacco in Spain occurred in Seville, and the country’s first tobacco factory (Real Fábrica de Tabacos) was built in the city 1728.

Seville was still important, and the treaty of 1729 between Spain, France and England was signed in the city.

The 19th C

Despite the loss of the Casa de Contratación to Cádiz (which also built its own shipyard and became the home of the Spanish Guardias Marinas), Seville still entered the 19th C as Spain’s second largest city after Madrid. This was not to last, yellow fever appeared throughout Europe in the early 19th C. It arrived in Cádiz, but because of the intense costal traffic between Seville and Cádiz, with one month yellow fever had hit the sailors’ district of Seville. It is said to have killed around 30% of the population of Seville.

At the beginning of the 19th C, during the Spanish War of Independence (Guerra de la Independencia or Peninsular War 1807-1814), the French invaded Seville. The city had been active in building resistance to the French and in trying to mobilise British help, and was home to the “Junta Suprema Central” from 1808 to 1810. In 1810 the Junta moved to Cádiz and Seville was occupied without firing a single shot (despite the anti-Napoleonic feeling of the population).

The French were forced to leave Seville in 1812 after the Batalla del Puente de Triana, fought by an Anglo-Spanish contingent. The French did not retire without having plundered the city of numerous works by order of the French Marshal Jean de Dieu Soult.

Up to the Middle Ages Seville was a port, with both shores of the Guadalquivir being used to load and unload cargo. As Seville became the gateway to the Americas the river became a forest of masts, and the right bank, Triana, dealt with careening, caulking and supplying provisions and equipment, whilst all the other services were located in el Arenal, on the side of the city (e.g. customs, contracting, etc.). So Triana’s development was linked to shipping, fishing and shrimping. Los Remedios was where the riverside carpenters made riverboats. It was here that, in 1816, the Real Compañía Navegación del Guadalquivir built and launched the first steamship in Spain, the “Real Fernando”.

Initially el Arenal was home to a few simple jetties. And through to the 19th C things did not get any better. There were no sheds and warehouses and all the goods were taking to the city across an old pontoon bridge. Finally 1852 saw the building of Spain’s first wrought iron structure, the Puente de Isabel II between Seville and Triana.

From April 1823 until June 11 1823 Seville was the de facto capital of Spain with the Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis, a French contingent that would help Ferdinand VII to restore absolutism. With the arrival of the absolutist troops in Seville the liberal capital had to move to Cadiz, before being finally defeated on the 30 September 1923.

In 1833 the administrative province of Seville was created, and in 1835 with the ecclesiastical confiscations of Mendizábal many convents were expropriated and their works of art brought together to constitute a Museum of Paintings, that today is the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville.

We have mentioned the Real Fábrica de Tabacos built in 1728, but tobacco revenues became increasingly important in the 19th C. Tobacco had been a monopoly from 1636, but had initially been operated by licenses. Tobacco became so popular that the Papal Bull of 1642 forbid clerics in Seville from using tobacco in holy places under the penalty of excommunication. With the building of the factory in Seville, tobacco became a Spanish State monopoly. Already by 1717 the Spanish treasury was the sole buyer of Cuban tobacco, and in 1760 it established a new monopoly on the raw material thus controlling directly the Cuban planters. Along with shipbuilding, mining, iron & steel, textiles, tobacco was one of the new capital intensive industries (thus “capitalist”) run as monopolies of the state (or through privileged entrepreneurs). The new industries were not subject to any existing guild rules, and labour relations were not subject to guild-type regulations. The tobacco factory in Seville was one of the first companies set up and run by the Spanish State. The original reason was to control the supply of manufactured tobacco, and in fact tobacco production was banned in the Iberian Peninsula to protect the monopoly of the Spanish State. The originally factory in Seville quickly became too small, and by 1730 it housed 500 snuff workers, 170 mules to move the mills, and 100 workers in the cigar workshop. It was Ferdinand VI who finally decided to build a larger factory, a building now used by the city university. See here for a detailed history.

We must remember in the factory processes were unified under one roof not for technical reasons, but because as a way to control the workforce. Such factories were huge buildings with very high overheads due to overmanning. Techniques were traditional, productivity was low, and quality was always difficult to define and achieve. For state monopolies full employment was more important than quality or developing an economic model of production. Tobacco (and sugar) were imported from Cuba by the Compañía de La Habana, in exchange for textiles, canvas, flour and slaves.

Official tobacco consumption increased until 1730, then after new price increases, and the war with England, consumption fell. It attained again the 1730 figure of 3.9 million pounds only in 1779. The reality was that demand continued to increase, but people switched to cheeper contraband tobacco. Most tobacco consumption was in the form of snuff, although cigar smoking was popular in Seville (cigarettes only became popular in the 1920’s). Powder was milled in Cuba, but most was milled in the Seville factories. Smoking tobacco was in the form of leaves from Brazil. The Spanish State owned both the wholesale and retail tobacco outlets. We have to keep in mind that for a long time Seville was the only tobacco factory in Spain, and all tobacco products were held in warehouses in Madrid and Barcelona.

Initially tobacco planting was done by slaves. In the 1870’s and 1880’s sharecropping and tenant farming emerged, and the work was performed by waged workers. Initially men worked in the tobacco factories, but by the late 18th C women were rolling cigars by hand. These women workers were responsible for the factory uprisings in Seville and Madrid during the 1880’s and 1890’s. 

Tobacco was not silver, but it was a very profitable business for the Spanish State. In fact in 1730 tobacco contributed nearly 19% of the total revenues of the Spanish Royal Treasury, and in 1775 this had risen to 28%.

In 1841, Carlos Pickman founded a ceramic factory (which would become the most famous in the city), in one of the monasteries that had been confiscation by the Spanish State, La Cartuja. It was a productive industry until the 1980’s. It was transferred to the municipality of Santiponce when the conditioning works began for the celebration of the Expo 92.

Towards the second half of the 19th C the city began the construction of the railway, taking advantage of the demolition of part of its old walls. The process of Ensanche (“widening” of the roads, etc.), was completed in the first decades of the 20th C with the building of the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929 (including Plaza de España and Parque de María Luisa).

We are going to stop this quick review of the history of Seville as we enter the 20th C. I hope over time to develop in far more detail the 20th C and 21st C history of Seville through our visits to different monuments, events, exhibitions, etc.

For further reference check out

The Historia de Sevilla

The Wikipedia article, and the timeline

The blog on Ispavilia

The Leyendas de Sevilla

Here are some practical details about the city.

In a recent edition (2013) of the FT they mention some places for tapas in Seville.

The first place is Albarama in Plaza de San Reancisco, which was ranked 3rd on tripadvisor. It would appear that they also have a second place called Puracepa in the same plaza. Try scallops on a mushroom risotto, the mini hamburger, and ceps with a quail’s egg.

The second place is Zelai in C/Albareda, ranked 65 on tripadvisor. Try the croquetas.

The third place was Becerrita in C/Recaredo, ranked 43 on tripadvisor. Try the artichokes with sherry and ham, shrimp ensaladilla, the oxtail croquetas, the hamburger of prawns, or the ibérico pork. Also ice cream with chocolate shavings.

The fourth place is Eslava, in Eslava, 3, ranked 5th on tripadvisor. Try salmorejo, ibérico ham, sardines, and egg on ceps.

The fifth place is Puratasca in C/Numancia, ranked 54 on tripadvisor. Try mojama (air dried tuna), prawns in pastry, quail and mushrooms, or vegetable tempura.

Equally in a recent FT “howtospendit” they mentioned the Hotel Alfonso XIII (refurbished in 2012) and the Puerta Catedral Apartments (self catering), as well as the restaurant Bodega Casa Morales (with their chicharrones).